I couldn’t sleep. My stomach was upset – acid indigestion. I made the mistake of having two glasses of grapefruit juice right before bed. I should have known better.
Anyway, I browsed on Netflix for something, and stumbled on “Thanks for Sharing,” one of the recent spate of movies about “sex addiction.” It’s really not so much about sex addiction as it’s about three men and a woman who are in a sex addiction program (seems to be Sexaholics Anonymous or Sexual Recovery Anonymous, based on its definition of sobriety, which explicitly precludes masturbation or sex outside of a committed relationship).
The movie was a bit of a mixed bag for me. It’s an imperfect but mostly charming and gentle depiction of complicated people facing difficult challenges, done mostly well.
The cast and the acting are awesome. Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Patrick Fugit and Pink are the big names, but Josh Gad, Joely Richardson, and Emily Meade (who compellingly plays the kinky Becky of the unfortunate kink/role-playing scene about which more below) all are terrific as well . The depiction of 12-step meetings is only slightly unrealistic. There were lots of moments in the movie that felt painfully familiar to me. There were others that weren’t familiar to me, but I recognized them from the lives of others I’ve known.
I have two complaints about the movie, one nit-picky, one less so:
Nitpicky: why do filmmakers insist in movies on violating the rules of the real world? The movie has lots of great shots of New York, but they are continually violating rules of time and space (and liquor regulations – Tim Robbins, at one point, ponders buying a bottle of liquor in a bodega – an impossibility in NYC). Mark Ruffalo lives on 3rd Street, but the subway stop at his house is 103rd Street.
And less nitpicky: there’s a scene of sexual role-playing that starts of compelling, but devolves into a shameful, shaming, sex-negative depiction of role-playing as the product of deeply unhealthy people. This is too bad. Throughout, the movie (and much of the 12-step movement in the real world) is pervaded by a sense of sex-negativity. The Times’s Stephen Holden called the movie “grimly puritanical” – this seems right to me.
Finally, the movie is guilty of some of the same things of which 12-step programs often are guilty: it glorifies 12-step programs, depicting them as the “one true path,” and it shows a near-total lack of interest in the causes of its subjects’ tendencies to act out. I always worry about these messages, particularly together: it’s almost like 12-step land – and this movie – discourage trying to understand how, why those of us who find it challenging to control our sexual behavior find ourselves in this position.
Maybe there are some for whom understanding and insight are irrelevant, and simple faith and fellowship can do the trick. But for many of us, the true key lies not in faith and fellowship, but uncovering the sources of our deep internal wounds. While this movie showed us the characters’ scars, it stayed far away from the wounds.